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Building a Sales Culture
by Gayla R. Sherry, SPHR, BOL Guru
Bios

In today's competitive financial services environment, there are only three strategies to grow your bank:
  • Get new customers
  • Provide more services to existing customers
  • Keep existing customers from leaving the bank
All three strategies require significant effort, including building sales skills for your employees. In addition, implementing these strategies may require your bank to undergo a change in culture.

Changing the culture may sound scary, but the effort does not have to be daunting. As with any significant change, changing the culture and providing the associated training and support for your staff takes time and planning. Here are some steps toward effectively changing your bank's culture to a "sales culture:"
  Communicate the need for sales initiatives to all employees
Many employees may not be aware of the necessity to sell (and cross-sell) bank services to current and existing customers. Keep in mind that most employees have been "groomed" in an order taker environment, which means that employees are accustomed to simply providing the services as a customer asks for them. In a sales culture, employees learn to build a relationship with the customer, and engage in active listening to learn what the customer needs. In a sales environment, everyone sells services, not just those employees in new accounts and loans.

In addition, employees may not know that commercial banks' existence is threatened by increased competition. Share with all employees - regardless of their tenure or job assignments - that commercial banks have consistently lost their share of the financial services market since the late 1940s. Provide information for employees, such as FDIC statistics, which indicate a decline of 10 percent of deposits held in community banks in Oklahoma from 1992 - 2000.

Acknowledge reasons for employee resistance to sales assignments
It is human nature to resist change, so you can expect employees to resist sales assignments. Generally, bank employees resist sales assignments for these reasons:
  1. Employees fear the very idea of selling, especially those in positions not typically associated with high customer contact or customer calling. Many employees associate the word "sales" with the stereotype of a used car salesman in a plaid sports coat. You can help offset this fear during conversations about sales, during sales training, and follow-up sales meetings by clearly communicating what you expect.
  2. Some employees may resist sales assignments because they fear being rejected. Few of us like to hear the word "no," and rejection can be disheartening for many. Overcoming the fear of resistance, and learning to accept the word, "no," is a critical part of any sales training and reinforcement.
  3. Another common perception among bank employees and staff is the idea that a sale is making a cold call. A sale in banking is not running out to the nearest intersection and hauling in a new customer. Sales in banking is building relationships, learning to actively listen, and recommending services based on the customer's needs and the service's benefits to the customer. Once employees realize the true meaning of sales in banking, their resistance is likely to diminish.
  4. Finally, many employees may not be aware that sales are part of their job duties. This is especially true for employees who are in positions not typically associated with sales. In some cases, even the tellers - who have the most customer contact of anyone in your bank - may not be aware that sales is a part of their job! As bank management, it's important that you incorporate your expectations of employees to sell and cross-sell bank services into performance expectations.
Provide extensive sales training
Of course, if you expect employees to sell and cross-sell bank services, you must provide training to equip them with the necessary knowledge to meet your expectations. This is especially important when helping employees move from the "order taker" environment to a sales environment.

It's important to help employees understand the importance of sales in banking, and the relationship of sales to the bank's future profitability (and existence!) During the training, it's also essential that employees learn what making a sale really means in banking, and to address their fear of sales.

An essential objective of sales training is to provide training about the bank's products and services to all employees. Employees tend to only know services in their immediate department or unit, not services provided elsewhere in the bank. In addition, most employees are accustomed to describing products and services in terms of features, yet customers purchase services for the benefits.

Effective sales training must include relationship building and customer service skills. Organizations can have a great sales force, but if the service is inadequate after the sale, the customer will leave the organization. Sales training should also include the opportunity to practice skills, such as identifying customer needs, linking those needs to bank products and services, handling resistance, closing a sale, and making referrals.

Provide follow-up and reinforcement
Building a sales culture does not end following sales training. It's essential to continually reinforce the training, and reinforce your expectations for employees. Also, as adult learners, we often must try the new skills before we can perform them smoothly. Encouragement and reinforcement during this trial period is essential to incorporating the skills into everyday activities.

The content of sales training and your continued expectations of employees to sell and cross-sell, and provide excellent customer service can be reinforced in several ways. Conversations related to performance goals, periodic sales meetings, and individual meetings are ideal forums for discussions about your expectations.

Sales meetings can also be a venue to provide additional product knowledge, changes in products and services, and for sharing success stories. Even the most resistant employee can be energized by hearing successful experiences of a co-worker!

An essential component of following up and reinforcing sales in your bank is to reward sales through recognition. Monetary rewards are always positive, but other forms of recognition can be effective as well.

Transforming your bank's culture to a sales environment is essential for profitability - and survival. By planning and implementing strategies, including communication, training and reinforcement, you can ensure a successful transition for your bank.

First published on BankersOnline.com 1/21/02

Copyright 2001. Gayla R. Sherry Associates, Inc.








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